Creating Community: Social Media, a Tool for Integration
by Ivan Mannino, Mary Katharine Phillips, Joshua Houston Wiebe, Alex Ertel, Pia Podieh, Eva Froneberg, BTogether.be
This proposal was elaborated in the Vesalius College Honours Class headed by Dr. Willi Scholz, Adjunct Professor for International Affairs at the Vesalius College and Head of the YES! – Young Economic Summit.
The current Europe-wide influx of migrants has undeniably sparked anti-foreigner sentiments across the entire continent. In Brussels, record numbers of incoming refugees are adding to the city’s already large pre-existing foreign-born population. Now, more than ever, we need a solution to ensure the successful integration between foreigners and locals. Btogether.be, a social networking site aiming to connect foreigners and locals in Brussels, will foster communication and interaction between various demographics, thus ensuring a happy, helpful community.
A Sea of Tents
Standing in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs close to Gare Du Nord in downtown Brussels, looking out onto what was once merely a playground for local kids, you cannot help but notice the sea of tents unfold before your eyes. Nearly 385 tents have been put up to house and shelter those seeking refuge from their war torn countries. What was originally designed to be a temporary solution, has soon become the daily life for nearly 1000 refugees. In response to the immediate crisis, hundreds of volunteers have come together over the past month to help migrants arriving in Brussels, and teams of doctors, translators and cooks have been recruited to provide the migrants with adequate care.
However, these recent developments have also reignited and heightened already existing anti-foreigner sentiments in Belgians all over the country. The unstable economy, aligned with fears of violence from radicalized migrants, threatens to cloud the minds of local populations with irrational terrors of all things foreign, that if not checked could lead to severe outcomes. As a result, integration of immigrants into society has become more important than ever; however, the execution of said integration is a highly debated and contentious subject.
Integration in Belgium
Thus far, integration in Belgium has been far from successful. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) most recent economic survey (PDF) conducted on Belgians in February of 2015, “immigrants are underrepresented in the public sector and white-collar private sector jobs, and over-represented in the less well-paid blue-collar and temporary jobs . . . lower employment, lower wages and households with more children lead to a risk of poverty or social exclusion above 40% among working-age immigrants” (p. 24). Such low employment rates only further exacerbate the low levels of migrant integration with natives. Children of migrants, though Belgian-born, often continue to suffer from their parents’ lack of economic equality and social exclusion and therefore face the same difficulties the generation before them did.
The matters of immigration and integration are ones that we are very familiar with; in fact, we are all foreigners in Belgium ourselves. As students from Vesalius College, a small American-style liberal arts college with an international student body located in the heart of Europe, we have experienced first-hand the benefits of a multicultural environment, in which different cultural backgrounds and demographics result in a rich personal experience for those willing to engage with one another.
To promote integration, we are developing a social networking website which will allow migrants and locals to interact in a positive environment. On btogether.be, users can plan activities such as language exchanges, volunteering groups and attendance of cultural events. Foreigners and locals will be encouraged to work alongside each other and interact with members from different demographics to promote integration and build a sustainable and open link between these communities. Furthermore, members may receive recognition from other members for taking part, organizing an event or showing leadership. This will be done using the “Thanks!” button, which can be shared on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn to illustrate to future employers, colleagues, or other actors the commitment and social responsibility shown by the individual. Newcomers to Brussels will also find a section on btogether.be containing useful links and information regarding housing, employment, registration and Belgian law.
Thus, the website will be an invaluable source not only to foreigners moving to Brussels, but to the entire city. The cohesive and well integrated community, which btogether.be will aim to create, will make life in Belgium more colorful, friendly and connected.
Further reading on the refugee park in Brussels, integration and the benefits of immigration:
- In Europe’s capital, a makeshift camp for refugees creates embarrassment (EurActiv, September 11, 2015)
- Free Wifi for Refugees in Brussels Park (Robin Boyle, xpats.com, September 14, 2015)
- Belgium: A Country of Permanent Immigration (Milica Petrovic, Migration Policy Institute, November 15, 2012)
- Study Finds Germany is Benefiting From Immigration (Andrea Thomas, Wall Street Journal, November 27, 2014)
- Defining the Expat: the case of high-skilled migrants in Brussels (PDF) (Emanuele Gatti, Brussels Studies, Issue 28 (31 august 2009)).
You are welcome to visit the related GES 2015 challenge ‘Migrants Knocking on Europe’s Doors: Towards a Coherent Response to Irregular Immigration’ and find more information on the subject.